David Yonggi Cho was born on February 14, 1936 as Paul Yungi Cho He was born in Ulju-gun, now part of Ulsan metropolitan city. The son of Cho Doo-chun and Kim Bok-sun, Cho was the eldest of five brothers and four sisters. During his childhood he was greatly influenced and trained in Buddhism, Confucianism, and eastern studies.
Yonggi Cho graduated from middle school with honors. Because his father’s sock and glove business went bankrupt and also his father failed in his bid for an elected office, which also ruined his family financially, he could not afford high school or university tuition.
Subsequently, he enrolled in an inexpensive technical high school to learn a trade.
At the same time, he began frequenting an American army base near his school, and learned English from soldiers whom he befriended. He mastered English quickly, and became an interpreter for the commander of the army base, and also for the principal of his school.
When he was 17 and a sophomore in high school, Yonggi Cho contracted tuberculosis, which put him at death’s door. Even as he neared death, he continued to study English by memorizing the English dictionary and his lesson books. Then his sister’s Christian friend visited him, and he accepted Christ as his personal Savior.
As the disease continued to plague him, Yonggi Cho went to his hometown to continue receiving treatment for the disease. One day he attended a crusade in Pusan led by missionary Ken Tize, and he received the blessing of God.
After that he began helping missionary Tize with interpretation as well as reading various Christian books, which helped him understand the Christian truth in greater depths. However, since he lacked firm conviction, Yonggi Cho struggled inwardly and began to fast and pray. Then one night while fasting and praying he met Christ through a vision of light. Through the vision, he was filled with the Holy Spirit.
The night he met Christ, Yonggi Cho was called by God to study theology. He came to Seoul in 1956 and entered Full Gospel Bible College on a scholarship. It was here that he met his future partner in ministry and his future mother-in-law, Pastor Choi Ja-shil a close ministerial associate.
Youngi Cho graduated in March 1958.
In May 1958, Cho held his first worship service in the home of his friend, Choi Ja-shil. Only Choi and her three children attended the service, but the church grew rapidly and soon had 50 members. Cho and church members began a campaign of knocking on doors and inviting people to come to church, and within three years, it had grown to four hundred members.
In 1961, the church purchased its first plot of land at Seodaemun-gu.
The church was growing remarkably well when Pastor Cho received an enlistment letter in January of 1961.
The mandatory enlistment was truly devastating.
A few days prior to his enlistment, Pastor Cho asked missionary John Hurston who had been led by the Holy Spirit to the church, to take charge of the church, and Pastor Cho went into the army in January.
While in the army, Pastor Cho suffered from an intestinal illness, which required surgery at the army hospital.
However, even after major surgery-which took him to the brink of life and death, his condition would not improve. Therefore, Pastor Cho was discharged from the army after seven months of service.
A few days after his discharge from the hospital-even before the surgical wounds was healed, Pastor Cho served as interpreter for Pastor Sam Todd who led a revival crusade at the Seodaemun intersection.
Half a month after the crusade, which had been full of the miracles of God, Pastor Cho pitched a large marine tent at the site-the first expansion of his pioneer church.
By November of 1961, a church was constructed to accommodate 1,500 people and on February 18th the following year, the dedication was held to commemorate the church sanctuary as the Full Gospel Revival Hall.
On April 26th of the same year, Pastor Cho became an ordained minister, and the church became officially registered as the Full Gospel Central Church.
Three years after the relocation to the Seodaemun area, in 1964 the church membership grew to 3,000. Amid the rapid growth of the church, Pastor Yonggi Cho married Pastor Ja-shil Choi’s daughter Sung-hae Kim on March 1, 1965.
Pastor Cho had been working without proper rest and without regard for his health, and he finally succumbed to overwork and fainted as he was leading a baptismal service for several hundred church members. However, after a week in the hospital, he was discharged for the Sunday service, at which time he again fainted due to weakened health, necessitating another stay in the hospital.
During his second stay in the hospital, he began to realize the physical limitations in his ministry. He further realized, “The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone” (Exodus 18:18).
He began to understand the necessity of delegating work to others as Moses had delegated work to various appointed persons among the Israelites to lead them through the desert.
The Holy Spirit gave him the understanding of how the members of the early church, especially the women of the church came to work and have fellowship together (Romans 16).
Home cell groups became the launching pads for the explosive growth of the church.
A week later after his discharge, Pastor Cho informed the leaders of the church about his vision and began formulating cell groups.
He divided the city of Seoul into 20 areas and encouraged the members of the church in given areas to come together in the homes of the members for worship and fellowship during the week. Many of the women were also chosen as cell leaders and trained to lead cell worship.
Later, as the men of the church felt challenged by the great organization of women members, they also began meeting in cell groups with other male members of the church.
Today the cell leaders in various organizations number 32,500 (women, men, young men, young women, children and so on).
In 1968, three years after the formulation of home cell groups, church membership stood at 8,000, and there were three worship services on Sunday.
Even with three Sunday services, it became harder to accommodate all the members of the church.
This led to the purchase of land at Yoido for a new church building.
At the time, Yoido was an island consisting mainly of sand, and it lacked any means of public transportation into the area. This led to much criticism within the church for its selection.
To make matters worse, the total cost for the church building was estimated at 800,000,000 Korean won, of which the church only had 1,000,000 won.
Regardless, Pastor Cho believed in the miracles of God and went ahead with his plan for the new church. The strong faith of Pastor Cho convinced the board of directors, and with the issuance of promissory notes, church construction began in April of 1969.
As soon as the construction began, there was a worldwide oil crisis, which caused a rapid drop in the exchange rate of the Korean won to the dollar.
As a result, the cost of construction materials skyrocketed because they were mostly imported.
Church tithe income dropped as many lost jobs, and the banks tightened their belt in terms of loans. All of these factors threatened to bankrupt the church, and the construction on the church came to a halt.
Every night Pastor Yonggi Cho went into the base of the skeletal construction, getting drenched with rust-soaked dewdrops as he called out to God in prayer and fell from exhaustion on the cold cement foundation.
Many in the church were affected by Pastor Yonggi Cho’s heart-rending prayers and the “Save the Church!” movement began bringing many members of the church to the cold cement church floor for nightly prayer alongside Pastor Cho.
Consequently, the construction resumed in spurts and finally resulted in a completed sanctuary; this accommodated 10,000 people. The first tear-filled worship service was held on September 23, 1973.
With the successful completion of the Yoido Church in 1973, the establishment of Prayer Mountain occurred in the same year because it would greatly aid the growth of the church. With more and more Christians making their way to Prayer Mountain, construction of a sanctuary to accommodate 10,000 people at Prayer Mountain was completed in September of 1982.
The cemetery storage shack for all-night fasting and prayer which was begun by Pastor Ja-shill Choi in a small hamlet in Kyung-gi-do has now become the Prayer Mountain which serves an average of 3,500 people a day and about 10,000 foreigners each year who come to pray at Prayer Mountain.
Following the church’s relocation to Yoido Island, church growth skyrocketed. By 1979 the membership numbered 100,000, and by 1981 the membership had doubled again to 200,000.
For the purpose of educating and enhancing the faith of the congregation, the first and second education buildings were constructed as well as the missions’ center through which missionaries are fostered and trained for evangelizing the world.
In 1984 the official registration of the church name was Yoido Full Gospel Church. The church membership stood at 400,000, and by 1992 the membership had reached 700,000. For those living great distances from YFGC, satellite sanctuaries were built. Many independent churches were established and supported for reaching greater areas throughout Korea.
In November 1976, Cho founded Church Growth International, an organization dedicated to teaching the principles of evangelism and church growth to pastors all over the world. In January 1986, he led the way in establishing the Elim Welfare Town, a facility for the elderly, the young, the homeless, and the unemployed. The latter would be given training and a choice of four occupations. In 1988, he founded a newspaper company, kukmin Ilbo. He was Chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship from 1992 to 2000, and has served as Chairman of the Korean Christian Leaders Association since November 1998. He has also served as Chairman of the Good People charity organization since February 1999.
In 2008, he retired and Young Hoon Lee succeeded him as senior pastor.
Salvation for the soul, Good health, Prosperity
As well as the usual salvation for the soul, David Cho wishes for every believer that salvation would ensure wellness of the soul which brings the true essence for good health (healing) and wealth.
Biblical basis: 3 John 1:2 says, “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” (NIV) “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” (KJV)
He calls these the threefold blessing:
Salvation for the soul: “When a man accepts Christ as his Saviour and his spirit comes alive, that reborn spirit becomes the master of the soul, having command over it, and uses the body as a place of residence. A person who experiences a rebirth of the spirit also experiences a rebirth of the conscience, a longing for the Word of God, a hope for the spiritual realm, and begins to communicate with God through prayer and worship and praises the Lord, and comes to feel the existence of God through every fiber of his body.”
Good health: “The physical curse of illness and death which were handed down through generations after the first sin of Adam were cleansed whole with no trace. Now, we must base our lives on the redemption of Christ, and claim our right to health and divine healing. Also, Christians receive the seed of eternal life (I Corinthians 15:42-45).”
Prosperity: “We must rethink our misguided thoughts considering material wealth as being equated with sin. We must drive out our subconsciously rooted thoughts of poverty, condemnation and despair. God acts in concordance with our conscience; If our thoughts are filled with poverty and despair, God bless us with material blessing.”
Belief in the fourth dimension
“Then God spoke to my heart, ‘Son, as the second dimension includes and controls the first dimension, and the third dimension includes and controls the second dimension, so the fourth dimension includes and controls the third dimension, producing a creation of order and beauty. The spirit is the fourth dimension. Every human being is a spiritual being as well as a physical being. They have the fourth dimension as well as the third dimension in their hearts.’ So men, by exploring their spiritual sphere of the fourth dimension through the development of concentrated visions and dreams in their imaginations, can brood over and incubate the third dimension, influencing and changing it. This is what the Holy Spirit taught me.”
In 1968, Cho received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Bethany University, (formerly known as Bethany Bible College), located in Santa Cruz, California.
Youngi Cho was also honored by the Council of Churches of the City of New York. He was awarded The Family of Man Medallion on May 18, 2005.
In March, 2011, Cho again became a subject of controversy when he reportedly made comments suggesting that the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami “could be a warning from God to Japan, which has become an increasingly materialistic, secular and idol-worshiping country.” However, this interview was so distorted; text of apology was announced by The News Mission.
In September 2011, 29 church elders out of 1,500 elders filed lawsuit by South Korean prosecutors. The prosecutors began an investigation of Cho’s alleged embezzlement of 23 billion ($20 million USD) from the Yoido Full Gospel Church’s funds. A national broadcaster, MBC, released a documentary that claimed the money had been used to buy properties for Bethesda University in Anaheim, California, United States, which Cho founded. In June 2016,This incident became a non-prosecution because “no suspicion”
On 20 February 2014, Cho was found guilty of tax evasion, sentenced to three years imprisonment, suspended for five years, and fined the equivalent of almost $5 million. His oldest son Cho Hee-jun was sentenced to three years imprisonment. The charges arose from Cho’s church purchasing shares from his son’s church at above market value and fraudulently claiming tax relief.
Dr. Cho was not sent to prison, and was able to continue his work. The church remains strong, and according to the current senior pastor, is growing.
Dr. Cho has apologized publicly, and said “God forbid, if God calls me back today, I will still be able to go to the Kingdom of God,” acknowledging his wrongdoings.
This conviction has been known by inside sources as not a controversy that directly happened because of Dr. Cho himself.
In June 2016, this incident became a non-prosecution because “no suspicion”
Pastor Cho continually thanks God for his 44 years of blessed ministry and is a true servant of God.
The goal for the new millenium is to establish 500 to 5,000 satellite churches and 500 prayer houses throughout the peninsula within the next 10 years, to expand the evangelical reach to the world through the support of the internet, and finally to expand evangelical missions work to the third world- including North Korea. For such purposes, Pastor David Yonggi Cho prays along with all the members of the church for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.